Greetings and welcome back to the Weekend Warrior, your weekly guide to the weekend’s new movies. Tune in every week for the latest look at the upcoming weekend, then check back on Thursday night for final projections based on actual theatre counts.
Let’s get right to…
The Battle Cry!
A few of you have been requesting that this segment of the column be brought back, and believe me, I have plenty of things I want to chatter and rant about. What I really want to talk about this week though is the fact that this Friday, October 10, is officially the Seventh Anniversary of the Weekend Warrior! Okay, granted, it wasn’t called that for the first year or so, but it’s still seven years straight of doing weekly analysis with a couple of weeks off here and there. Some of you might have noticed that this column has been progressively late and getting later over the last few weeks, partially due to the various film festivals that always happen at the same time as when the studios decide to release far too many movies than any one movie writer can possibly write about.
This was made even more evidently clear last week when my computer died and I lost 24 hours of writing time, and though it could have been worse (like losing the two days of writing I’d done that wasn’t backed-up), it did have enough of an impact that I wasn’t able to write nearly as many reviews as I hoped, some for movies that I’d seen over a month prior at the Toronto International Film Festival. The various film festivals going on could account for the lack of time to write during the week, but it’s also been tiring to spend my entire weekend writing this column just to try to get it up on Tuesdays. Not to whine because I love this job and I love watching and writing about movies and interacting with the readers of this column, but it starts to take its toll when you’re trying to see and write about everything, especially when half the movies aren’t even being considered worthy of screening before I have a chance to write about them. (That’s the real killer. I’ve only seen two of this week’s five wide releases, which means I’m writing based on advertising, etc.)
Even this week, having been away this past weekend, I feel like I’m struggling to write what I hoped would be a shorter column, but it’s really hard to keep this at a reasonable length, considering how many movies continue to be released on a weekly basis. It’s not like there are any big movies I’m that excited about coming up either, the new Bond being the closest, but I’m even skeptical of that since a lot of it was made while the writers were on strike.
In case you were wondering, seven years ago, this was the line-up I had to work with for my first weekend preview and analysis column, and sadly, movies have not really improved that much in terms of what’s being churned out of Hollywood on a weekly basis, which is another reason why maintaining this sort of output has been frustrating.
The amount of time it takes to write this column has also affected my ability to judge the box office as imperviously as I like doing, going by last week where I underestimated or overestimated just about everything, only coming close with Flash of Genius and An American Carol. While that does tend to happen when you’re trying to predict something as difficult and volatile as the box office, it also added further fuel to my theory that I’m starting to get burnt out as I continually rushed to finish each column.
Another part of it is that I really want to focus on writing longer-form reviews, something which becomes incredibly harder to do when you’re spending 8 to 10 hours a week researching and writing box office analysis, and actually trying to see movies, do interviews, etc.
Never fear, the Weekend Warrior isn’t going anywhere, but I do think there’ll be some changes over the next few weeks, as I try and figure out a way to provide the same information in a tighter and more concise way. You can still expect there to be a “Chosen One” and limited releases (at least for now) but they’ll generally be shorter writer-ups, so I can focus on longer reviews and interviews/features for the site. Hopefully, we’ll be back on Tuesdays once I figure out a way to write this column in a way that doesn’t completely kill my chances of taking a day off on the weekend to do other things. (I’m sure my editor would be much happier, too>)
Either way, each week we’ll start with what almost everyone here is for:
1. Body of Lies (Warner Bros.) – $22.2 million N/A
2. Beverly Hills Chihuahua (Disney) – $17.8 million 39%
3. The Express (Universal) – $11.3 million N/A
4. Eagle Eye (DreamWorks) – $10.3 million -42%
5. Quarantine (Screen Gems/Sony) – $9.8 million N/A
6. Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist (Sony) – $6.2 million -45%
7. City of Ember (Fox Walden) – $5.6 million N/A
8. Nights in Rodanthe – $4.3 million -39%
9. Appaloosa (New Line/Warner Bros.) – $3.0 million -43%
10. The Duchess (Paramount Vantage) – $2.8 million +313%
Then we’ll get to the…
The second weekend of October offers four more movies in wide release, as well as one limited release finally expanding, and one should probably expect that like last week, only one or two of these will do well while the others won’t make much of a mark.
The strongest offering in terms of star power and premise would have to be Ridley Scott’s Body of Lies (Warner Bros.), reuniting him with Russell Crowe for the fourth time, this time joined by three-time Oscar-nominated superstar Leonardo DiCaprio. October is generally a tough month to open a movie but DiCaprio had previous success on this weekend with Martin Scorsese’s The Departed and the popular young(ish) actor continues to prove his ability to draw both men and women to movies, which will help make this Middle East spy thriller the top movie choice this weekend even if we shouldn’t expect the type of opening Scott has had with Black Hawk Down or Gladiator.
Trying to take away some of the male audience, Dennis Quaid stars in the season’s token football movie The Express (Universal), about the first black football player to win the Heisman Trophy, which should bring in an older audience who generally likes these inspirational sports movies. It should have a good mid-range opening, enough for third place.
It’s main competition for that slot is the first real horror movie of the usually thriving October season, the R-rated horror remake Quarantine (Screen Gems), based on the Spanish film [Rec], adapted by the filmmakers of the yet-to-be-released The Poughkeepsie Diaries. It looks like a fairly standard people-trapped-in-a-building-with-something-scary premise, but more in line with 28 Days Later than The Grudge. It should bring in the 17 to 21 year old audience looking for something less serious than the above two movies.
Trying to get the kids and families away from Disney’s Chihuahua movie and probably failing miserably is City of Ember (Fox Walden), a big budget fantasy epic starring Atonement‘s Saorsie Ronan, Tim Robbins and Bill Murray, though the star power won’t do much to help with the lack of strong commercials or the general dearth of the fantasy-adventure genre as seen as recently as Disney and Walden’s failed “Prince Caspian.”
This week’s “Chosen One” is Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky (Sony Classics), a modern-day slice-of-life dramedy based in London starring Sally Hawkins and Eddie Marsan, and the Honorable Mention is Guy Ritchie’s RocknRolla (Warner Bros.), both of which you can read about below.
Last year this weekend, Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married? (Lionsgate) opened at #1 with $21.3 million in just over 2,000 theaters, knocking Disney’s The Game Plan to #2. James Gray’s police drama We Own the Night (Sony), starring Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Wahlberg, opened with $10.8 million in third place. Fresh off its critical drubbing from the Toronto Film Festival, Elizabeth: The Golden Age (Universal) opened in nearly 2,000 theaters with just $6.1 million for sixth place. The baseball drama The Final Season (Yari Film Group) opened well outside the Top 10 with just $660 thousand in nearly 1,000 theaters, while The Jane Austen Book Club‘s expansion into nearly 1,200 theatres produced just $1.34 million. The Top 10 grossed roughly $80 million, a sum that should get thrashed for a second weekend in a row.
Body of Lies (Warner Bros.)
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Mark Strong, Oscar Isaac, Golshifteh Farahani, Simon McBurney, Ali Suliman
Directed by Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, Blade Runner, Alien, Kingdom of Heaven, American Gangster, A Good Year, Thelma & Louise and many more); Written by William Monaghan (Kingdom of Heaven, The Departed)
Genre: Political thriller, action
Tagline: “Trust No One. Deceive Everyone.”
Plot Summary: Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a CIA operative stationed in Iraq who is trying to fight the war on terrorism from within, by finding informants within terrorist factions who can alert him to upcoming terrorist initiatives. It’s a difficult and dangerous job made even harder by his supervisor Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe), who constantly has his thumb in the pie making it more difficult for Ferris to maintain the integrity of his mission to find and stop terrorists.
After making a movie about a ’70s Harlem crime lord, British filmmaker Ridley Scott returns to more global matters, in this case a political thriller based on the novel by journalist David Ignatius, adapted by William Monaghan, the Oscar winning writer of The Departed, who Scott previously collaborated with on the 2005 bomb Kingdom of Heaven. It also reunites Scott with a number of other former collaborators, the most prominent one being actor Russell Crowe, who has now starred in two of Scott’s biggest hits, the 2000 Oscar-nominated Gladiator ($186 million gross) and last year’s American Gangster ($130 million). In between, they had the disastrous bomb A Good Year, but starring opposite Christian Bale in the Western 3:10 to Yuma last year helped salvage Crowe’s career, which many thought was over. More importantly, it teams the venerable British director with actor Leonardo DiCaprio, who has been known to make everything he touches turn to gold ever since his debut in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, which got the then-teen actor his first Oscar nomination. DiCaprio has had a lot of success in the last ten years, most notably with James Cameron’s Titanic, currently the highest-grossing movie domestically, and there’s a good deal of anticipation for his reunion with Kate Winslet in Sam Mendes’ Revolutionary Road later this year. More recently, DiCaprio has become Martin Scorsese’s leading man of choice, starring in three of his most successful films including The Departed. What’s interesting is that both DiCaprio-Scorsese movies before the Oscar-winning hit didn’t open particularly well, and only made their money from Oscar buzz over the holidays. Leo’s role in Body of Lies is similar to the one he played in Edward Zwick’s Blood Diamond, which got him his third Oscar nomination, and this will appeal to a similar audience of 20 to 40-something males, as well as some women. While it won’t have any affect on the box office, we can’t fail to mention the amazing performance by British actor Mark Strong, who also appears in Guy Ritchie’s RocknRolla (see below).
Besides returning Scott to the Middle East of “Kingdom,” only hundreds of years later, it also allows him to deal with current political affairs for the first time since Black Hawk Down, which will also be of interest to college-age and older audiences, especially with what’s going on in the world. Despite everything going for it, movies about Iraq and the Middle East have generally not done very well, as seen last year by Peter Berg’s The Kingdom, which was delayed to the fall but grossed less than $50 million, and Gavin Hood’s Rendition did even worse despite an all-star cast. The big difference is that this is directed by Ridley Scott, one of the most respected filmmakers for three decades, and many will be interested in seeing how he explores the subject matter, even if it keeps the movie from the kind of opening Scott and his two stars have had in the past. Reviews will generally be strong or mixed, which might help it in the long term, although it will probably end up well under the $100 million mark.
Why I Should See It: Ridley Scott is one of England’s greatest living filmmakers and this is another good one from him with great performances from DiCaprio, Crowe and Mark Strong.
The Express (Universal)
Starring Dennis Quaid, Rob Brown, Omar Benson Miller, Clancy Brown, Charles S. Dutton
Directed by Gary Fleder (Runaway Jury, Impostor, Don’t Say a Word, Kiss the Girls); Written by Charles Leavitt (Blood Diamond, K-PAX, Uprising)
Genre: Sports, Drama
Tagline: “He changed our country… one yard at a time.”
Plot Summary: Ernie Davis (Rob Brown) was a poor black man from Pennsylvania who fought all sorts of obstacles to become one of the greatest running backs in college football history with the tenacious help of Syracuse coach Ben Schwartzwalder (Dennis Quaid). Despite all sorts of adversity, Davis was able to help fight the prejudices of a nation to create tolerance that would eventually lead him to becoming the first African-American football player to win the Heisman Trophy.
If the fall is officially upon us, then it must be time for another inspirational football movie, this one telling the story of Ernie Davis, the first African-American football player to win the Heisman Trophy. Based on the book by Robert Gallagher, it’s the kind of story that will probably interest a select group of moviegoers, though it mostly will try to bring in the football fans who have some spare time in between the slew of weekend games, fantasy football, etc.
Needless to say, there have been a lot of hit football movies in the September and October months as it’s very much on the mind of American males across the country due to the weekly college and NFL games from Saturday through Monday, so football movies like this are a logical extension of that mindset. Parallels can be drawn between this movie and other inspirational football movies like Invincible starring Mark Wahlberg and Warner Bros.’ We Are Marshall, but really, who knows how moviegoers decide on which football movie to see or skip since the difference between the opening weekends and total grosses of the football movies of the past six years have been fairly dramatic. Peter Berg’s Friday Night Lights and Denzel Washington’s Remember the Titans both opened to over $20 million each in roughly the same time of the year, while other movies tended to open more in the $13 million range. This one explores similar Afrocentric themes as Jerry Bruckheimer’s Glory Road, about one of the first all-black college basketball teams, but that angle should help the movie bring in African-American audiences more than some of the other football movies, even if young black males are just as likely to see the horror movie Quarantine or Ridley Scott’s new movie this weekend. With only moderate promotion, this probably won’t be one of the bigger opening football movies, but if it’s any good and gets good reviews, word will spread allowing it to sustain its business as football season continues through October.
Why I Should See It: This is a great story from the history of college football and the civil rights movement that forever changed the country.
Quarantine (Screen Gems)
Starring Jennifer Carpenter, Jay Hernandez, Columbus Short, Greg Germann, Steve Harris, Dania Ramirez, Rade Sherbedgia, Jonathon Schaech
Written and directed by John Erick Dowdle with Drew Dowdle (The Poughkeepsie Tapes, which is yet to be released)
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Tagline: “On March 11, 2008, the government sealed off an apartment complex in Los Angeles. The residents were never seen again. No details. No witnesses. No evidence. Until Now.” (And yes, unlike Body of Lies and The Express, this is based on a true story! No, not really.)
Plot Summary: Angela Videla (Jennifer Carpenter) is a television reporter whose been sent with her cameraman (Steve Harris) to trail a Los Angeles fire station, but when they go on a routine 911 call to a small apartment building, the firemen discover a woman infected with a virus that has caused vicious attacks on her neighbors. Before they can escape, the entire building is quarantined trapping Angela and others in the building with the deadly virus without any communication to the outside world.
Anyone who’s seen the commercials for the latest horror flick from Screen Gems, a studio that’s had had huge success with this kind of movie in recent years, may feel like this is something they’ve seen before. Maybe that’s because it’s a remake of the 2007 Spanish horror film [Rec] by Jaume Balagueró, the director of the horror film Darkness, released here a few years ago. More likely, it’s just that it plays up some of the same fears as other recent horror movies, including last week’s bomb Blindness. The filmmakers behind it, John Erick and Drew Dowdle, are the duo responsible for the controversial horror film The Poughkeepsie Tapes, which has yet to be released by MGM after premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival in April 2007. Usually, horror movies don’t rely on their casts to get people into theaters, although this one has a few strong actors experienced with the genre, including Jennifer Carpenter, star of the hit Screen Gems thriller The Exorcism of Emily Rose and the Showtime show “Dexter,” and Jay Hernandez, star of Eli Roth’s hit horror flick Hostel. It also co-stars Columbus Short, the hot R ‘n’ B star who appeared in last year’s This Christmas and the dance movies Stomp the Yard and You Got Served, although his appeal amongst young women might not be enough to get them out to see an R-rated horror film. The horror genre tends to bring in older teens and college-age audiences, and it continues to be a popular moviegoing genre as seen by the solid opening of the 20th Century Fox remake Mirrors from Alexandre Aja just a few months back. R-rated horror tends to cater more to guys, and in this case, Quarantine may have too much competition for the over-20 male market from the new Ridley Scott and football movies coming out this week. The moviegoing audience who just likes escapist entertainment will probably go see this even if it looks like just about every other horror movie. Even though this probably won’t be screened for critics like so many other horror films from Screen Gems, Sony has been running a strong commercial campaign to sell the premise, and it’s one that should be strong enough to bring at least the horror fans into theaters even if there’s no real long-term possibilities for the movie after its opening weekend.
Why I Should See It: If you ever wondered what happens when people are quarantined in a building then… sorry, I really have nothing on this one.
City of Ember (Fox Walden)
Starring Bill Murray, Tim Robbins, Saoirse Ronan, Harry Treadaway, Martin Landau, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Toby Jones, Mary Kay Place
Directed by Gil Kenan (Monster House); Written by Caroline Thompson (The Nightmare Before Christmas, The Addams Family, Edward Scissorhands, Corpse Bride)
Genre: Family, Adventure, Fantasy
Tagline: “Escape is the only option.”
Plot Summary: The City of Ember was built two hundred years ago, an amazing underground world of bright lights, but when the generator that lights the city starts to falter, two teenagers must unlock the mystery of the city’s existence and help the city’s citizens escape before the city is thrown into permanent darkness.
Mini-Review (Coming Soon!)
This weekend’s underdog is the latest attempt by Walden Media to adapt a recent novel for young adults into a movie that can help get younger kids excited about reading, this one being an adaptation of Jeanne DuPrau’s semi-obscure 2003 book. It’s produced in conjunction with Tom Hanks’ company Play Tone, who previously forayed into the family market with the animated films The Polar Express, a relatively big hit, and The Ant Bully, an animated bomb, which made the mistake of opening just one week after Sony’s animated Monster House, which ironically was directed by Gil Kenan, the director of this movie. Almost like a children’s version of Escape From New York, this project has great credentials, starting with its screenwriter Caroline Thompson who co-wrote some of Tim Burton’s most popular movies including Edward Scissorhands, the animated The Nightmare Before Christmas and The Corpse Bride. The cast is nothing to sneeze at either as it marks Bill Murray’s first major role in a live action movie in almost three years. He had small roles in Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited and a cameo in Get Smart, but his main gig in the last four years has been providing the voice of the cartoon cat Garfield for two movies after starring in a number of high profile indie flicks, the most notable one being Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation, but he’s also worked extensively with the likes of Jim Jarmusch and Wes Anderson. This is Tim Robbins’ second major family film after the Sony family adventure Zathura, directed by Jon Favreau, which grossed just $28 million. The main star of the film is Saoirse Ronan, the young Irish actress nominated for an Oscar for her key role in Joe Wright’s Atonement last year, and who recently appeared in the Houdini drama Death Defying Acts opposite Guy Pearce and Catherine Zeta-Jones. If that wasn’t impressive enough for you, there are also roles played by veteran actor Martin Landau and reputable British character actor Toby Jones.
With the success of the “Harry Potter” movies, Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” movies and Disney’s adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, studios were optioning and greenlighting movies based on fantasy books left and right, but few of the resulting films have been able to find success on par with those blockbusters. Movies based on huge best-selling young readers’ novels like The Golden Compass and Eragon weren’t able to translate into box office hits, and even Disney and Walden’s “Narnia” sequel “Prince Caspian” didn’t have nearly as much success as its predecessor, possibly proving that the fantasy movie genre had run its course due to oversaturation.
Fox hasn’t been the strongest studio at promoting family films with the exception of The Ice Age, and Fox’s partnership with Walden Media has only provided sporadic results with this year’s Nim’s Island being one of its bigger successes. Last October, the Fox Walden imprint was launched with The Seeker, a movie based on an obscure ’70s book that bombed despite an ultra-wide release. Despite all that, this movie hasn’t been very well promoted (aside from press events like a train ride down to San Diego) but there’s been very little real excitement or buzz amongst the younger male audience that the movie is relying on this weekend. This time, Fox is only releasing the movie into roughly 2,000 theaters rather than trying to saturate the market, and they’re mostly waiting to screen the movie for critics until the day before opening, which is never a good sign. This is going to be a very expensive bomb from Fox Walden, possibly one of the reasons why the subdivision is being folded back into the parent company.
Why I Should See It: The movie actually looks pretty decent, like the Zion portion of The Matrix Reloaded if the residents didn’t all start ripping off their clothes and dancing to house music… okay, maybe that’s praising with faint damns.
THE CHOSEN ONE:
Having screened at the Toronto, Venice and New York Film Festivals, Mike Leighs latest opens on Friday in select cities.
RocknRolla (Warner Bros.)
It opens in New York, L.A. and Toronto on Wednesday, October 8 with plans to release it wide on October 31.
Also in Limited Release:
Ashes of Time Redux (Sony Classics) – Wong Kar Wai (In the Mood for Love, 2046) revisits one of his earlier films with a reworked version of his 1994 martial arts epic starring Leslie Cheung as a swordsman whose heart is broken, so he remains a loner while his fellow swordsmen are able to find love around him. The enigmatic and artsy epic from the Hong Kong auteur opens in New York and L.A. having played at the Toronto and New York Film Festivals.
Mini-Review (Coming Soon!)
Billy: The Early Years (Rocky Mountain Pictures) – Armie Hammer plays the young preacher Billy Graham in this religious drama directed by Robby Benson that follows Graham through the Depression-era tent revival through his relationship with Charles Templeton (Kristoffer Polaha), a fellow preacher who begins to doubt his own faith. It will open in hundreds of theatres in the South and Midwest on Friday, and you can see the entire list of theatres here.
Breakfast with Scot (Regent Releasing) – Michael Downing’s novel is adapted with Tom Cavanaugh and Ben Shenkman playing a gay couple who get custody of an orphan named Scot (Noah Bernett) who at the age of 11 is already embracing gay fashion. It opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.
Call+Response (Fair Trade Pictures) Musician Justin Dillon directs this documentary that looks at the current state of human slavery that combines testimonials from key political and cultural figures, as well as performances by the likes of Moby, Natasha Bedingfield, Five for Fighting, Talib Kweli, Imogen Heap and other acts. It opens in select cities listed here.
Choose Connor (Strand Releasing) – Luke Eberl’s drama about a high school student (played by Alex Linz) whose suburban life is changed when he meets congressman Lawrence Connor (Steven Weber from “Wings”) and his son, who become friends as the teen becomes a “youth campaign spokesman” only to learn the secret world of politics. It opens at the Cinema Village in New York on Friday.
Good Dick (Morning Knight, Present Pictures) – Marianna Palka writes, directs and stars in the Sundance favorite about the romance between an L.A. video store clerk (Jason Ritter) and his female customer (Palka) who rents adult videos from him. It opens in L.A. at the NuArt Theater on Friday and in New York at the Landmark Sunshine on October 17.
Lower Learning (Anchor Bay Entertainment) – Eva Longoria and Jason Biggs star in this R-rated comedy set in an elementary school suffering from the worst test scores due to the irresponsible teachers who are drunk and having sex on the grounds, so it’s up to the school’s vice-principal (Rob Corddry) to get the teachers to turn the school around. It opens in select cities on Friday.
Nights and Weekends (IFC Films) – Joe Swanberg and Greta Gerwig who last worked together on Swanberg’s Hannah Takes the Stairs collaborate on this drama about a couple whose long distance relationship is put to the test by having to spend so much time apart. It opens on Friday at the IFC Center in New York, and then plays the Chicago Film Festival on October 20.
Next week, there are a couple high profile movies that’ll try to save the month, as Mark Wahlberg takes on the role of video game gumshoe Max Payne (20th Century Fox) and Josh Brolin takes on the role of the 43rd U.S. President in Oliver Stone’s W. (Lionsgate). There’s also the R-rated road comedy Sex Drive (Summit) and the adaptation of the best-selling novel The Secret Life of Bees (Fox Searchlight) starring Dakota Fanning, Queen Latifah, and Jennifer Hudson.
Copyright 2008 Edward Douglas